2-player TPK report

I'll preface this by saying that I've only DMed 4th edition, and the one player who showed up and ran two characters has only ever played 4th. I ran a short, 3 player game against some goblins that was fiercely one-sided in the PCs favor, so decided to go all out.

(I accidentally called the thread 2-player TPK, where it was actually one player with two characters. Oops.)

Characters:
Human Monk - 18 Dex, 15 Wis, 14 Con. He had a 16 AC, 10ish HP, and a +7 to attacks. With Flurry of Blows, I thought he'd be a star. Also had a hand crossbow for ranged attacks.
Human Cleric - 18 Wis, 15 str, 14 con. He had 17 AC from chainmail + shield, and +7 to his radiant lance. He had sun domain at wills, and had prepared Cure Light Wounds and Command.

The Mission:
Player came with Cleric already complete, but wanted a crack at the Monk (hadn't seen it yet). While he built his monk, I cooked up a simple goblin bandits scenario based on the 5-room dungeon principle. Some local merchants were being robbed along the north road going through a dense forest. No one knew who or what had done the robbing, because everything was plunged into darkness right before the attacks.

Monk and Cleric investigate, ask questions of a Town Guard and one of the Merchant victims. Cleric uses his knowledge of the Arcane to determine if the merchant was affected by magical darkness, but all he can tell is that no spell had been cast specifically on the merchant. (Is this OK? How do you deal with magical aftereffects and identifying magic? Would it have been better to say "you know from your magical studies that spells can simulate darkness, and some monsters have the innate ability to do so." He rolled like a 22, so I felt obliged to share good info.)

PCs decide to head up the north road and try to figure out what was going on. They follow a trail of apples (merchant victim's inventory) to a cliff face jutting out of the forest. In the cliff face is a ten-foot wide crack leading into a natural tunnel. Outside, two goblins are goofing around. Cleric lasers one with radiant lance, toasting it to death. Monk misses the other with hand crossbow, and it freaks out and runs into the tunnel.

In the tunnel, the PCs can't quite catch the goblin before he springs a trap which drops a ton of rubble on the party. Monk makes the dex saving throw, but Cleric fails and takes 1d6 (3) damage. I think I made a mistake here, because this cut off any chance of sneaky stuff by the PCs. They're locked in to a tunnel, with a goblin scout running ahead to warn everybody of their presence.

Further down the tunnel, there is a large cavern with 6 goblins and 2 human mercenaries looking apprehensive and shifting in anticipation. The large cavern is lit by two torches. The monk peeks around the corner and makes a dexterity check to avoid alerting the goblins. The cleric walks out and lances one goblin to death, which jolts the enemy to readiness. Two goblins grab the torches off the wall and douse them, completely removing all light from the room. The human mercenaries start shouting at the stupid beasts, but the remaining 4 goblins fire arrows at the cleric. (they have darkvision, so they're completely unhindered by the darkness.) 2 of the arrows hit, and together deal enough damage to put the cleric at -1.

So now the Monk stumbles over to the cleric and uses his action to stabilize him. He succeeds, but the Cleric doesn't pop up like in 4e, and the Monk is still one against 7. The human mercenaries go next, relight the torches, and demand the Monk's surrender. He tries to bluff his way out of the situation, and the mercenary offers a place to rest while the band waits for its leader. The Monk agrees, and the two are led up a winding tunnel with rough hewn stairs and locked in a room.

While locked up, the unconscious Cleric takes a short rest and recovers 8 hit points. He's close enough to his maximum that he doesn't burn a spell slot for Cure Light Wounds just yet. Monk uses the investigator feat that grants a 20 to search a 10 by 10 area and finds blood stains on the ground under the bed, and a locked wooden door. There is a goblin guard on the other side of the door who shouts at them in common to shut up and wait til the boss gets back in the morning. Rather than wait, the PCs bust the door down (thanks to the Helping rules granting advantage to the strength check) and kill the goblin.

The PCs find themselves in a hallway with several doors leading out, including a large set of double doors. They bust open the doors (not locked) and find the two human mercenaries sitting at a table. Cleric takes 5 damage from one attack, while the other mercenary kicks over the table to use as cover. Monk and Cleric attack the first mercenary and he drops to 1 HP. He spends his turn disengaging and then hiding behind the table with his friend. The second mercenary pops up and throws a spear, dealing 5ish damage to the Monk. The Cleric finishes off the 1hp merc, and the Monk deals a bunch of damage to the now-unarmed mercenary. The cleric closes in and finished him off as well, getting advantage from flanking.

So now, bruised and bloodied, the two head down the winding stairway back to the main cavern, with the light spell cast so the goblins can't pull the darkness trick on them again. The Cleric tries to laser the first one, but misses. The Monk takes one out with his hand crossbow, and then they surround the PCs. The cleric goes down to a couple of lucky shots, and the monk take a turn to stabilize him. The three remaining goblins take the monk down to 1, and he take one out with his normal attack. He hits a second with Flurry of blows, but the d4 rolls a 1 and is not strong enough to outright kill the goblin. The two goblins attack and one hits the Monk, dealing 5 damage and ending the adventure.

Our main takeaway is that PCs are not as powerful or tough as 4e 1st level PCs. The player thinks that's a horrible thing, a mistake in game design they'll have to fix. I tried to explain that this is the direction they're going, but he thought that was ridiculous. Having 20 HP at level 1 would be bad, he says, but at least a little better.

Though now it occurs to me - why do the characters with the least experience (1st level) have to be the cleverest when dealing with monsters and stuff? New players won't know how when they most need to, and older players will be able to breeze right through.

I totally overdid it with the goblins though. I was remembering the last session, where 3 PCs (2 fighters and a rogue) cut through 9 unsuspecting goblins without even breaking a sweat. Having them prepared and use advanced tactics definitely turned the tide in their favor. I did not expect him to just charge into the room, though I didn't really leave him a lot of options. Twice, the Cleric went down and the monk spent his action to stabilize him in the middle of a fight, where running away or taking out more goblins seemed like the obvious choice to me.

So what do you guys think?

First off don't feel bad if ya had a TPK during play test, that’s what it’s there for. On your first question I would have given him a good bit of knowledge if he rolled a 22 on arcana while gathering information from a witness. It seems plausible that as long as he is trained in Arcana he would be able to make an educated guess at what happened based on someone’s description.


To your concern about bottling them in, they charged blindly down a tunnel after one goblin, you didn't make them do so.


That's the whole point of 5th Ed. you won't make it if all you do is boldly charge room after room and attack first and do reconnaissance later. This was true of 1st and 2nd Ed. as well. It faded in 3.5 and was just about gone in 4th Ed. I'm not judging any version here (as I've said on earlier posts I haven't met a D&D I didn't like) but they are fundamentally different.


4th Ed. is more like Rambo or Pirates of the Caribbean; big bold crazy moves pay off more often than not.


5th Ed. is more like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or the walking dead, avoid combat when ya can and if you have to make sure you have a plan and know what’s up or main characters will die (At least at low levels).


Also look at what it takes to make it to 2nd level, only 160 XP that says that level 1 is really a modern version of the old level 0 character idea. Your kind of starting out and seeing if adventuring is for you. Even 2nd level to 3rd is a cautious time. By 3rd level you have what we all expect a 1st level PC would have in the way of recoverability and resilience if we were playing 3.5 or 4th Ed.


I think it takes players and DMs to change their mind set so 5th Ed is a fun and rewarding. Players need to stop being brash charging nut balls and the DM needs to make sure that encounters have a way out when things go badly and to not mob the PCs with too many things at first (Again unless they charge in head first without thinking or checking). We should see a resurgences of the rogue (Stealth PC), familiars, and remote sensing rituals because reconnaissance and information is key in 5th Ed.






            
This session's player reporting in. For fairness' sake, most of my experience is in 4e, so things like starting out with 10 HP are a bit of a shock to me.

I do only now realize that yes, perhaps combat was not the best option. I was even offered an out in the initial explanation of the encounter, as it was suggested my characters could have gone back to town and rallied support. I suppose that my best opportunity to do so would have been when the goblin I missed ran away. I didn't take it. Mea culpa.

As for the rest of the encounter, though, even if I'd had a second chance to run away, I still would not have had enough HP left to do so. Nevertheless, now that I am removed from the heat of the moment, yes, I will admit tactical error on my part.

However, I maintain my belief that level 1 characters are still too fragile, and that having such low HP actually limits their ability to do anything. After all, there's not a lot you can do when your only healer is mostly dead. Basically, by the time I realized we were screwed, it was too late.

Also, in defense of using a turn to stabilize: that was the most I could do. Perhaps I'll give them a potion or two for next time.
In another thread, there was a discussion about have characters start w/ more hp, but have a slower increase (maybe not even rolling for hp until level 5). I didn't like the swingyness of older editions, so I have no love for the low hp at level 1. I would frequently start players at levels 5-7 in 3.x. 4e level 1s being heroic early on is a playstyle I prefer.
A quick fix is for level 1 add con score (like in 4e) to max HD roll. That should allow characters to survive a few more hits (assuming metalman approves).
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
Is it really something that should be house-ruled, though? HP, being a critical part of the game mechanics, should work by initial design, shouldn't it?

Healing, I can see making house rules for. HP? Should be tweaked fundamentally, to keep overall game balance. 
HPs will always be a hot topic for debate, no matter what they do with them.  HPs are but one important aspect in the overall survivability and balance of characters.  HPs, alone, do not determine how frail or "squishy" a character is.  Every character could have 1 HP to start and that wouldn't be a death sentence necessarily.  I know that sound rediculous, but HP effectiveness is also tied to many other aspects... including Avoidance ratings (AC, attack bonuses against, etc) and Damage output of attacks.  So that 1 HP would be quite powerful if attacks only hit 10% of the time with an average damage of 0.3.

Personally, I like the more "old school" style, but dislike the changes to the Bestiary that have diminished the effectiveness of those hit points.  Originally, things like kobolds and goblins did 1d4 or 1d6 damage, but boosting that to 1d6+1 is actually quite signficant (almost 30% increasure to damage).  The orc is significantly worse.  A guard room orc in the original Caves did 1d6 damage... now they do d12+2!  Yikes!

The problem isn't with Hit Points, in my opinion, it's with the Bestiary.  Give us back the original style monsters and the Caves of Chaos would be a dangerous, fun, exciting adventure, without the out-of-scale one-shot creatures that make hit points seem too weak.

Yes, you could just give characters 4E hit points again (20 to 40 to start), and the result would be generally the same... but it takes away any element of danger from single attacks and makes combat last longer.  A lot longer.  But having 8 HPs against d6 attacks means being just a couple of shots, a single bad round, from needing stabilization or healing, and that's part of the fun imho.
That would be an acceptable fix. I'd be very happy if a way could be found to be able to do more with fewer HP.

At the same time, would a 4-5 HP boost really be so bad? I'm not asking for 4e-type HPs here. Just a little extra. To give an additional round or two. That's all.

Maybe in place of 1d8 for cleric and monk, 2d6. Only gives 4 more HP. You can even give the fighter an extra d4 if balancing is in question. 
HPs will always be a hot topic for debate, no matter what they do with them.  HPs are but one important aspect in the overall survivability and balance of characters.  HPs, alone, do not determine how frail or "squishy" a character is.  Every character could have 1 HP to start and that wouldn't be a death sentence necessarily.  I know that sound rediculous, but HP effectiveness is also tied to many other aspects... including Avoidance ratings (AC, attack bonuses against, etc) and Damage output of attacks.  So that 1 HP would be quite powerful if attacks only hit 10% of the time with an average damage of 0.3.

Personally, I like the more "old school" style, but dislike the changes to the Bestiary that have diminished the effectiveness of those hit points.  Originally, things like kobolds and goblins did 1d4 or 1d6 damage, but boosting that to 1d6+1 is actually quite signficant (almost 30% increasure to damage).  The orc is significantly worse.  A guard room orc in the original Caves did 1d6 damage... now they do d12+2!  Yikes!

The problem isn't with Hit Points, in my opinion, it's with the Bestiary.  Give us back the original style monsters and the Caves of Chaos would be a dangerous, fun, exciting adventure, without the out-of-scale one-shot creatures that make hit points seem too weak.

Yes, you could just give characters 4E hit points again (20 to 40 to start), and the result would be generally the same... but it takes away any element of danger from single attacks and makes combat last longer.  A lot longer.  But having 8 HPs against d6 attacks means being just a couple of shots, a single bad round, from needing stabilization or healing, and that's part of the fun imho.



I agree with this, but here's my question: would all orcs really be armed with greataxes?  I don't know about anybody else but I always envision them using scimitars, spears, maybe handaxes, whips, battleaxe, flail, or morningstar, possibly along with a shield.  Maybe a greataxe here & there, but certainly all of them wouldn't be armed thusly, that would just be weird.  Anyway that would go a long way towards fixing the one shot problem.

Yeah.  Sort of like adding Toughness (+5 HPs) to all.  The net result is the same.

I am probably a bit of an oddity, but I actually *enjoy* the first three levels a lot.  The personality and development of characters is at its greatest then.  I am not talking about powers or what's on a character sheet, because there's certainly a lot of that in advanced levels.  The heart and soul of a character, though, really blossoms and grows in those formative levels.  Part of this is because there's less reliance on powers because there's less to a character.  Players tend to think of their characters as people and not just as stats and powers (though, this wasn't the case in 4E where powers often defined your character right from the start - you had so many).

Anyway, there does need to be a solid balance between hti points, ac, and damage so that the element of danger is there, but without the heavy emphasis on hits and misses.  When damage is too high, even with reduced hit %, the net result is a feeling of all-or-nothing, total success vs TPK.  The bounce of a single die carries too much weight in those cases.
First of all, hi Shadow, nice to hear from you on here. I'm glad to be able to talk about the actual results of playing.

Second, I didn't mean any offense in my comments above. sorry if any of that came off as complaining or  anything.

I think I'm with shaderaven above - I like low HP and low damage. They've made it clear that they're still working on the monsters, and I hope they reduce damage eventually. One of my least favorite parts of 4e was finding out that, after a 6-month campaign, the monster math was broken. Hopefully the play test will reveal those issues before the game goes gold.

Looking forward to DMing again on Monday. Hopefully we'll have a few more players next time! 
What offense? You were right; on further examination, my tactics were sub-optimal.

Blame it on my primary experience being in Encounters more than anything else. Up until this last season, there wasn't much other option besides fighting it out. 
What offense? You were right; on further examination, my tactics were sub-optimal.

Blame it on my primary experience being in Encounters more than anything else. Up until this last season, there wasn't much other option besides fighting it out. 

Yep I don't blame anyone on charge first, kill things and ask questions later tactics if they have been playing 4e for a while (Especially encounters). It becomes automatic and there isn't an easy way in either edition to en mass disagage from a fight without creating a complete rout.


I really think the 5th Ed. 1st level PC is a modern take on the 0 level PC. For those that remember there were various rules to have a character play a bit in what was effect the making of their back story, pre level one.


If thats the intent then you really don't want to run across at Orc if you are a 1st level PC in 5th Ed.      
When my players played Caves of Chaos with the first playtest package, they got a quick dose of how dangerous the monsters could be, but after a while, they adjusted their behaviors and started to enjoy playing with limited hit points once again.   (We played all editions but our most recent campaign was using 4e).  For a lot of people, the feel of the game is something that they will get used to after playing for a while longer.  

I agree with the "keep the starting hit points lower crowd", and I do like what ShadeRaven said about working on the Bestiary.   I'd rather have the monsters hit a little more, but do less damage.   Also, if the default is low hp...it is very easy for DMs/Groups to just say that in their world, adventurers are more heroic so everyone begins with +2, +4, +5 hp...whatever they think feels right.

I also agree with TimTheEnchanter.   I've been making the orcs in my playtests use shortswords, longswords, shortbows, longbows, great axes, maces...etc.   By varying their weapons, I can get different reactions from the players even using the same monster.   My players are much more bold fighting orcs that wield shortswords and maces.   They get more cautious and frightened when they see the big ones wielding the greataxe.  That type of variety is crucial.

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Maybe I'll change my mind on further playtests regarding the lower HP. We'll see. At the moment, my mind is elsewhere.

I really like the idea of changing out the weapons for intelligent creatures that use them. I don't think the answer is to reduce damage in the bestiary for balance sake when its weapon damage. You don't want to start down a slippery slope of a battle Axe base damage is different depending on the race or creature holding it. Yeah sure the “to hit” and + to damage changes but fundamentally it’s the same weapon.


I would love a bestiary that listed all monsters (beings) that use weapons and armor to list what they are proficient with and we the DMs could decide what they are geared up in. Heck I've always had to backward engineer intelligent monsters that wear armor so I know what their AC is without any armor. If the PCs are smart enough to wait and attack hobgoblins while they are resting or break into the bandits stronghold while they are sleeping there is no way they all pop up in scale mail and plate ready to go.


If 5th Ed. is going to be a more dangerous and thoughtful game, where combat is concerned then PCs should be able to exploit moments when the bad guys aren't armed and ready. They should be able to see that "oh boy watch out for the big guy with the Axe", while the other Orcs have simpler weapons. If they are truly a well-equipped Orc group with all Battle Axes that’s when the 1st and 2nd level PCs should say OK not going to deal with them right now!

You certainly have validity in what you write, DB, and it's the sensible/realistic way to go.  All these creatures are intelligent enough, war-like, and numerous.  Perhaps modules like the Caves of Chaos should be written with details and mechanics such that trying to take out any intelligent creatures lair would be like trying to attack a stronghold held by humans, dwarves, etc.  Well armed, well defended installations prepared for attacks in a world that's full of threats and violence.  It's definitely the realistic way to go. The onus would be on players to plan, play smart, and look for tactical advantages to overcome these sensible obstacles to their objectives.

But I am not sure it's the fun way to go and it's certainly not Gygaxian "old school" D&D/AD&D where modules were not carefully crafted with realism and concern for monsters.  It was more about challenge, danger, and fun.

I guess I have just spent enough years playing heavy-on-realism, thick-with-rules RPGs. I, personally, would love to have the option to play just for fun again - like it was when I first started playing D&D oh-so-long ago.  I am enoying how 5E is getting back to its roots and not trying (yet) to make sense of everything, adjudicated every detail, and put heavy onus on tactics and logic.

It's a tough decision they have ahead of them - deciding who is going to be their target market. It'll be impossible to make 5E perfect, or even "good enough" for everyone.  Modularity and expansion will help some, but the heart of 5E will be within that first impression in the core books.

Selfishly, I hope they throw logic and realism out the window and give us the simple fun of old.  It's neither right or wrong, just what I want it to be.
 
You certainly have validity in what you write, DB, and it's the sensible/realistic way to go.  All these creatures are intelligent enough, war-like, and numerous.  Perhaps modules like the Caves of Chaos should be written with details and mechanics such that trying to take out any intelligent creatures lair would be like trying to attack a stronghold held by humans, dwarves, etc.  Well armed, well defended installations prepared for attacks in a world that's full of threats and violence.  It's definitely the realistic way to go. The onus would be on players to plan, play smart, and look for tactical advantages to overcome these sensible obstacles to their objectives.

But I am not sure it's the fun way to go and it's certainly not Gygaxian "old school" D&D/AD&D where modules were not carefully crafted with realism and concern for monsters.  It was more about challenge, danger, and fun.

I guess I have just spent enough years playing heavy-on-realism, thick-with-rules RPGs. I, personally, would love to have the option to play just for fun again - like it was when I first started playing D&D oh-so-long ago.  I am enoying how 5E is getting back to its roots and not trying (yet) to make sense of everything, adjudicated every detail, and put heavy onus on tactics and logic.

It's a tough decision they have ahead of them - deciding who is going to be their target market. It'll be impossible to make 5E perfect, or even "good enough" for everyone.  Modularity and expansion will help some, but the heart of 5E will be within that first impression in the core books.

Selfishly, I hope they throw logic and realism out the window and give us the simple fun of old.  It's neither right or wrong, just what I want it to be.
 

Yep your right it tough they have to pick a road to go down because playing the middle makes a mess of things (can't be all things to all people). I will say that regardless of the version, I too go back to the time of the dinosaur, you see the game the way you want to see it. I remember playing 1st and 2nd Ed. and we played it with a lot of realism. So for me playing it old school refers to the complete opposite that you recall. As you said neither of us are wrong, its just a different take on the game. I actually see 4th Ed, as the furthest from realism of all the versions but hey that me.


My honest wish for 5th Ed. is core rules that don't have a lot of detail or mechanisms but are designed to have it added for those that wish it. Then they can publish and sell optional rule add-ons for realism nuts like myself. Gives them more to sell (who wouldn't love that) and makes both side of the gaming coin happy. Well OK sort of happy those that want the deeper dive have to pay more for all the material but I can deal with that.  
heh. Yeah.  God, we were young when I first picked up that Red Box.  There was nothing like it.  It was very loose and very Monty Hall.  I guess I lacked the... desire... heck, even the maturity and experience... to turn D&D into a tactical, realistic game at that point.  My DMing style at that point was "grab your swords and spells and have at it folks!"  We played so much, we used up what little printed material there was at the time and so much was off-the-cuff.

And a lot of it was goofy kid stuff (I remember one player, who had taken over the Keep in Keep on the Borderlands, remodelling it to put in a baseball field - heh... and I invented rules for using stats and having games against other teams from different baronies, keeps, cities, duchies, etc).  We did have fun and played the heck out of D&D for years.

I agree with you in one aspect... I think it's easier to start simple and add complexity.  It's dang near impossible to do the reverse.

But, yeah, no... me and my friends certainly didn't start out too worried about realism.. clearly.  (We did move to Rolemaster for quite a few years where I paid much greater attention to detail and realism.)
I think the core should be simple w/ modules adding complexity. This is why I could see a module for hardier heroes giving them a little more hp and ways to self heal (extra HD at level 1? I'm still trying to figure out a good way).
But, if PCs can generally survive 2-3 hits at level 1, I think I'll be okay with it. If they can do that w/ 6-12 hp... sweet.
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
One of the editions, 1st I think, had entries in the monster manual for orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls, whatever that included tables that showed what percentage of a given group would be armed with what weapons, like this:

Longsword 50%
Shortsword 25%
Morningstar 15%
Spear 10%

Maybe a bit more detailed/more entries than that but you get the idea.  Anyway I always thought that was a good idea and wouldn't mind seeing it return.  I think they may have unintentionally started the habit of equipping monsters identically through a over concern for balance, which as 4th edition should have showed them is not entirely a good thing.  Sure, you get it as close as possible but then you shouldn't be afraid to throw a random factor or two such as the weapon table into the mix.  After all, the game will never be perfectly balanced, due to dice rolls it is random by it's very nature.
Totally agree.  Giving creatures a variety of weapons adds color and interest to encounter.  Even back when, if a "boss" had a Battle Axe +1 as part of his loot, I'd let him equip it and let him give the PCs a scare.

I just don't want to have to figure out stats, proficienies, feats, finesse, vs P/S/B, etc., when I do it anymore.  It was simple enough to let that Goblin Chieftain go from D6+1 to D10+2 and players to see he wasn't just weilding a simple short sword like the rest of them.
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